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How to be a truly customer-centric travel brand: it starts with listening

Published on By Tara Schwenk

Being customer-centric doesn’t mean “going above and beyond”. In fact, when you become truly customer-centric – it’s not about you at all.

Being customer-centric doesn’t mean “going above and beyond”. It’s not about your incredible service, or your wonderful staff. In fact, when you become truly customer-centric – it’s not about you at all.

It’s all about the customer.

And not just what they want, but why they want it.

Once you discover the motivation behind decision-making, your offering can become exceptionally appealing to your ideal customer.

It’s a bold stride away from the traditional way of identifying demographic personas. And we think that’s a good thing in today’s travel market.

But how do you do it?

First, you’ve got to listen. Then, you’ve got to be brave enough to embrace the truth.

“Wait – we’ve done our market research. We know who we’re targeting”

Demographics and audience personas are some of the oldest and most often used market research tools. But do they work?

Not really.

Segmenting customers into simple demographics tells you a few things – like if they’re male or female, which country they live in, how old they are and if they’re married. You might even get an insight into their social status and wealth.

That information alone is a little bit… Pointless.

The best you’ll get out of it? Stereotypes and caricatures of people who don’t really exist. It’s pretty flimsy data, and here’s why.

Take this example. We have two men:

Both were born in 1948 and grew up in England
They each have two children
They are very wealthy
They run their own businesses
They’ve both been married twice
They both own dogs

One of these men is Charles, Prince of Wales.

The other is Ozzy Osbourne, Prince of Darkness.

You couldn’t get much more chalk and cheese than that (we’ll leave you to decide which one’s the cheese in this scenario).

Anyway, here’s the point: if you were targeting based on demographics alone, they’d both be in the same audience segment.

But – if you were to target their behaviours and interests, their values and their passions, you’d begin to unpick their motivation.

And we’d be willing to bet that Charles and Ozzy would be quite different in their guiding principles.

That brings us from chalk and cheese to… peanut butter. Or rather, how a peanut butter brand used best-in-class social listening and audience insights tools, to find out who their true customers are – and build actionable strategies for targeting more audiences like them.

How Peanut Butter & Company used social listening to target purchase motivation over demographics

Audiense is an extremely powerful audience insight tool that can unveil so much more than a demographic or persona can. That’s why we use it as a part of our tool kit at Lemongrass – and it’s being adopted by a growing number of brands to propel their businesses.

Here’s an exciting example of it in action, for American brand Peanut Butter & Company (watch the demo given to The Social Listening Lab).

Peanut Butter & Company has a pretty good social media following of loyal fans and customers – but they’re already converted. To grow their customer base, they took their own first-party social media data (collected through social listening tools) and fed it into Audiense.

They discovered that they could cluster their audience by interests and lifestyle:

  • Bodybuilders and runners – motivation: building muscle/high protein
  • Mums – motivation: a quick, tasty sandwich for school
  • Wellness bloggers – motivation: clean eating and keto diet products
  • Foodies and chefs – motivation: finding the best ingredients

Each group has totally different motivations.

Demographic segmentation wouldn’t have helped discover anything new here – maybe the stereotype of the working mum, but with no true motivation behind it.

Social listening goes deeper, unveiling the affinities that each group holds. For instance, Peanut Butter & Company found that 30% of the foodies and chefs audience is following TV chef and content producer Jaden, of SteamyKitchen.

Straight away, there’s a potential influencer campaign in the making – one that can expand their marketing into an engaged, likely-to-convert audience.

Armed with this knowledge, Peanut Butter & Company can develop unique marketing strategies and make creative assets for each audience cluster, giving tribes of customers exactly what they want from the brand.

Their customers are steering the ship – and that’s a truly customer-centric approach.

How Lemongrass Marketing does this for travel brands

So, that’s all great for peanut butter makers – but what about us, in the travel sector?

The same guiding principles apply.

Using best-in-class social listening tools, we’re able to turn our clients’ first-party audience data into wider nets – helping them capture more customers based on what motivates them and the media they consume in their free time.

By feeding the data collected by social listening tools into audience profiling tools, we can see traditional demographics data – gender, age, location – but then overlay it with meaningful insight into habits, values and affinities.

These tools anonymise the data, but let us see what media and content these audience clusters consume. We can discover their favourite social media accounts and top influencers, favourite TV channels and shows – we even get AI-powered personality insights.

How does this work in practice?

Well, when we were working on building profiles for an adventure tour operator, they wanted to know which news publication cyclists in the UK love the most. So, we fed their data into our tools and discovered the top newspaper for that audience – The Guardian.

This gave us a pitching target, and the platform to begin our content research: let’s give the audience what they want. Let’s go customer-centric.

And this is just one route into data discovery.

For a tourism client with a smaller social media following, we began a competitor analysis using a similar method. By using the larger audience of their competitor, we were able to build out new audiences and see where they spend time online, which papers they read and what kind of content makes them tick.

There’s always a way to get what you need. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go against the grain.

How to really listen to what customers want

  • Start at home, with customer feedback and your first-party data. This is of vital importance, because you get out what you put in. Make sure it’s clean, reliable data – we usually start with CRM, Google Analytics and social media data.
  • Use industry-leading, best-in-class tools to identify brand mentions, online conversations and your wider, unknown social media audience.
  • Collate your first-party data to feed into an audience insight tool, to discover what the behaviours of key audiences truly are. Audiense, Semrush or Global Web Index are great tools for that. They give us deep insight into wider affinities, audience clusters and where we’ll be able to target more people with similar wants, needs and motivations for buying.

Things can get a little tricky, here – because not only do you need access to these tools (which are costly), you’ll need expertise in data analysis, interpreting data and in content creation.

Data gathering and measuring is science.

Understanding and interpreting it is humanity.

Creating experiences for those audiences is an art.

An expert team with the tools and experience at its disposal, and specialisms in each area, makes the biggest impact. The results you get will be a true representation of what your future customers want – giving you the best start in becoming a customer-centric travel brand.

Those results might go against traditional thinking. It’ll be a brave step – but you’ll have the data to back it up.

Acting on the data takes bravery

The travel industry is changing, and the old market research and focus group methods aren’t a good fit for the future.

Putting yourself in your customer’s head helps you understand the world from their viewpoint – and emerging methods, like empathy mapping, are taking this type of audience insight to an even deeper level.

But that’s a conversation for another day.

It’s so easy to keep promoting your brand blindly, posting content and steering conversations – but if you’re really listening to what consumers want and putting them first, you’ll have to change that approach.

It takes a lot of bravery – but who dares, wins.

Making the switch to customer-centric seems like a leap of faith, but with the right data and the right plan in place, it’s the most trustworthy approach. You’ll need the best tools, the best team and the best strategy to make it work.

And if you’re ready to make the leap, we’re ready to make it with you.

Unlock your audience data. Become truly customer-centric

Lemongrass Marketing is a specialist travel marketing agency. We’re changing the way travel brands win customers: book an audience insight report to build real-world, actionable personas for your travel brand. Call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or send your message to